#17 Requiem For A Dream

(2000, Darren Aronofsky)

“But I’m going to be on television!”

The other day, I had a discussion with a co-worker regarding movies that are just profoundly hard to watch. Not because they’re bad movies, but because the movies are about such difficult topics that you come away finding it hard to discuss it. You just want to sit quietly in a dark room for a while until the profound uncomfortable sensation the movie gave you fades away. The movie I cited as a prime example was Requiem For A Dream.

The movie is about addiction and the American Dream. On one hand we have a group of drug addicts, Harry (Jared Leto), Tyrone (Damon Wayans) and Marion (Jennifer Connelly), who decide to move into the drug peddling trade to earn a lot of money and get themselves the lives they want to leave. On the other, we have Harry’s mother, Sara (Ellen Burstyn) who is also an addict. Except she’s addicted to something more socially acceptable – television. She constantly watches a series of infomercials and game shows, and when receives news that she’s been invited to appear on the show, she becomes obsessed with looking great for the cameras.

But as much as I’d like to avoid spoilers with these reviews (except in the “scenes” section, I’ll admit), I may as well say it right off the bat. The movie starts off gritty and moody, with only minimal hope holding some of the misery together into something bearable, but as it progresses, it only gets more depressing. About halfway through, all hope drops out of the movie and it’s just a constant downhill slope from there. Requiem For A Dream is not a happy movie.

While it may be an uncomfortable movie, it is not a bad one. In fact, its ability to connect with the viewer on such a powerful level is something only a good movie is capable of doing. It makes the viewer uncomfortable, but it’s deliberately doing everything it can to achieve that feeling. Darren Aronofsky uses rapid fire cutting to disorient the viewer, and frames everything that happens in ways the viewer can connect with. Indeed, by directly contrasting the “evil” illegal drug addiction with the “safe and acceptable” television addiction, the two become one and the same. The fact that the act of putting on a pot of coffee is presented in almost exactly the same manner as someone shooting heroin speaks volumes. Just when you’re prepared to say “yeah, but they take drugs, they have it coming”, Aronofsky hits you with something you’re bound to be doing every day, and says it’s the same thing, which throws you every time.

It also helps that the performances are pretty spectacular too. You’ll find yourself feeling sorry for Ellen Burstyn’s character constantly, for starters. She makes the character seem realistically like a lonely old woman with little better to do than just stare at a TV screen all day. Jennifer Connelly elicits both sympathy and spite in equal measure as the tormented Marion. As for Leto and Wayans, I initially had reservations, specifically in the “how can the lead singer of 30 Seconds To Mars and that guy from Scary Movie play serious parts?” area. But they pull it off. Leto is especially surprising, and while Wayans has his “wackier” moments, they actually suit the characters perfectly.

But Reqiuem is a movie you’re unlikely to ever watch again. It’s so harrowing, so unrelentingly miserable, that the idea of watching it a second time seems like masochism. But if you feel you can take it, it’s worth watching at least once. It’s a masterpiece of film-making, both in its technical ability and in its ability to connect with the viewer on a serious emotional level.

Starring Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly & Marlon Wayans
Written by Hubert Selby Jr and Darren Aronofsky
Produced by Eric Watson and Palmer West
Original score by Clint Mansell
Cinematography by Matthew Libatique
Edited by Jay Rabinowitz

Favourite Scene: The exchange towards the end of the film between Marion and the man she’s begun to receive drugs from. The subtle hints to how trapped by her addiction she is are powerful.
Scene That Bugged Me: I never quite grasped exactly what the TV show Sara is a addicted to is. So anytime this appeared it bugged me.

Watch it if: A little uneasiness doesn’t scare you, and you can appreciate the message.
Avoid it if: You like your movies to come with happy endings.

Originally posted on Blogspot Friday 11 November 2011

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Posted on April 3, 2012, in 2000s, Drama and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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